I had my first experience of summer camp in 1985, I remember it quite fondly. It was at the Youth Farm Bible Camp and I was in grade five. I remember telling my mom after the experience that I wanted to volunteer at camp when I was old enough. I remember one of the counsellors tell me that I had leadership ability, it was the first time that I remember someone saying that. The staff cared for me, the campers were fun to be with and we enjoyed the community that was created. I was able to be someone different then what I was at home, at school, or at church. I was able to learn new skills like archery, making breakfast, building a bird house, and much more. I had long conversations with other campers and with a junior staff member about God. I heard a speaker each day share stories from the bible that intrigued me and helped to develop my faith.
The power of camp comes from the temporary community that is created, combined with outdoor activities and transformational leaders. These three dynamics have served summer camping well and created opportunities to transform the lives of the campers who attend. Many peoples first experience at being away from home for five days is at summer camp. They learn independence, they foster their own identity, they find a community that loves them. This is what happened for me when I came to camp over thirty years ago!
Temporary community allows people to try on different behaviours and experiences that they feel would not be available to them in their permanent community. It allows people to see how others around them respond when the act differently. When compassion, love, hope and faith or the attributes being explained and showcased by staff and others, campers will seek to try on these attributes and "see if they fit". That is just one of the many positive characteristics of temporary community.
Everybody knows that our society spends much more time indoors then it use to. Children and youth are inside the majority of their life. Many books have been written about the power of the outdoors. If you take your 15 minute coffee break and spend it outdoors, you will be much more rejuvenated then if you spend it inside. Moms are always telling their children - go play outside (or at least they use to be). Now the great outdoors is a little scarier in our culture. Children are not allowed to explore outside as much as they use to be. At summer camp, we explore the outdoors in a safe environment. We spend most waking hours outside - playing games, on the jumping pillow, riding horses, at the petting zoo, swimming, canoeing, low ropes, wagon rides, climbing wall, pedal karts, corn maze, campfire, and so much more. Campers are tired at the end of the day because of the time outdoors.
At the Youth Farm Bible Camp we seek to develop and train transformational leaders. We ask our staff to portray our core values - sacrifice, serve, share and seek. Our staff our asked to sacrifice their own desires and allow Christ to shine through our lives. We expect our staff to serve the needs of others before they serve themselves. We want our staff to share their gifts, talents and resources with the community they serve in. And finally we expect our staff to be seeking in their relationship with God, to find time in community with their heavenly Father. We develop our staff through training, Mexico Impact Trips, serving the needs of Adults with Intellectual Disabilities, daily meetings, and mentoring leadership staff.
There is power in summer camp! Having a retreat from normal life, in an outdoor space filled with animals, with staff that follow core values creates a transformational experience.